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That Wasn’t Supposed to Happen: A Requiem of the 2016-17 Providence Friars Season

NEW YORK, NY – MARCH 4: at Madison Square Garden on March 4, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Porter Binks)

I have a lot of feelings and thoughts surrounding the Providence College Friars right now.

Part of me is extremely disappointed. For the Friars to have come so far just to fall flat right as they made it to the Tournament and looked as though they were going to advance was one of the most deflating moments for me as a fan.

Another part of me is upset, even frustrated and angry. This was not the team performance I had seen win six games to earn them the tournament bid in the first place. This was sloppy, unfocused, and undisciplined basketball. Someone needs to be blamed for this! I don’t care who, let’s just point the finger!

But, that’s only just part of my current emotions. Part of me is really, really proud of this season. We overcame a lot and shut up the doubters. Our future is bright, we showed that we are a team to be taken seriously every year, and this season was a ton of fun at points.

The best way to sort through these emotions is to take a look back at this season and think about what we were coming into it, how we did, where we ended up, and what that means going forward.

Providence is Picked 9th in Big East, Expectations Non-Existent

“No Kris Dunn and Ben Bentil means this will be a rebuilding year for Ed Cooley.”

That might not be a direct quote, but it may as well have been because all anybody wanted to talk about regarding Providence was what they weren’t. They weren’t the team with Kris Dunn anymore. They weren’t touting a surprise forward by the name of Ben Bentil. They weren’t going to be competitive in the Big East this year, but maybe next year they would.

It wasn’t that the talking points were wrong, but when you hear so much of what you aren’t then your first inclination is to retaliate with what you are.

For fans, that caused some division. Was this a team that could surprise many and be competitive in the Big East by touting depth over superstars? Was this a team that would disappoint night in and night out, reminding fans of what life was like before Ed Cooley arrived on campus?

There were so many uncertainties and question marks about these Providence Friars that nobody – not even the most dedicated fans – could answer a simple question: who are the Providence Friars?

One thing was certain though: no fan agreed that 9th place was the right pick. Everyone felt we should be better. 9th was a low ball from peers and experts alike who could only cite what Providence wasn’t, rather than what they could be. But, as long as Ed Cooley would be at the helm, most fans knew that 9th was never going to happen, no matter who was on this team.

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Providence Loses to Ohio State and Virginia, Beat URI, Vermont, and Memphis, and Expectations Soar

How many wins does it take to convince a sports viewer that you’re watching a team that could go somewhere? Is it two wins, five wins; or is it wins over major opponents? What is the criteria?

It may vary from fan to fan, but one thing was certain – when the Providence Friars lost to Virginia after losing to Ohio State earlier in the season, fans were convinced this team was going to be going somewhere. Yes, the Friars had lost those games, but it was how they lost – they stayed competitive against a superior opponent, did not quit or get shaken up, and continued to put the effort in. Were these “moral victories” then? Maybe, but it was something fans could hang their hats on. A twisted feeling of ‘hey, we only lost by this much and looked good doing it, we’re going to be great!’

This feeling wasn’t out of left field, however. The Friars had already beaten Memphis and Vermont by the time they lost to Virginia, and a victory over a ranked Rhode Island team seemed to help support the belief that the Providence Friars may have more to them than what people have given credit for.

You see, when the Friars lost, it wasn’t unexpected. Nobody thought we were going to head to OSU and beat them at home, and nobody believed if we faced Virginia in the Emerald Coast Classic that we’d win. But the fact that the Friars played competitively in both games, combined with the fact that Providence had beaten some (at the time) good, name brand teams, made for a very promising start to the season. The Friars suddenly didn’t look like a 9th place team in the Big East. They looked like a possible March Madness team.

PC Loses to Boston College, Setting Off a Losing Streak and Total Loss of Hope

Should we have won at Boston College? Yeah, absolutely. Boston College is a terrible basketball team with almost no talent and hasn’t done anything of significance recently other than beating Syracuse once at Syracuse.

Did we deserve to win? Not the way we played.

Missed shots. Defensive collapses. Turnovers. These are forgivable in my mind because even the best basketball team can have a bad showing. It was the fact that the Friars looked sloppy and unfocused…that was the real problem.

And it’s not like it got any easier after Boston College. The first five games of Big East play were ugly. The Friars went 1-4, beating only Georgetown, and ending the first five games with a loss to DePaul. During that stretch they had the unfortunate luck of playing Creighton, Xavier, and Butler as well.

The real challenge was many fans were hoping one of these games – perhaps Creighton since we played them in Providence – would be the first surprise win of the conference season and help dispel the notion that the Friars were a 9th place team. The opposite happened and fan morale was at an all time low; feeling kicked in the chest after a loss to Creighton that they could have won and a loss to DePaul that they had all but wrapped up if not for getting lazy.

Providence Beats Marquette in Milwaukee, the Tide Turns

Here’s the thing: when your team is on the down and outs, you look for anything to help bring them back. You want a glimmer of promise. Something that you can use as evidence to say “see, we got this!”

For Friar fans, that was the Marquette game.

On the surface, the storyline is pretty straightforward: the Friars had never won at Marquette, they squeaked by the Golden Eagles when Marquette missed a shot at the end of the game, they escaped with a win.

Here’s the thing though, that game shifted the perception of what the Friars were capable of doing. Suddenly it wasn’t so hopeless in the season. Did fans believe there would be a tournament bid after this game? No. But they believed there was a chance, and that was all the Friars needed at that time.

Friars Go on a Six Game Win Streak to Lock Up an NCAA Bid

“Six wins and you’re in” became a familiar mantra at the end of the season. The Friars were 4-8 in conference and had a shot at getting into the NCAA Tournament, but they needed to win out – not an easy task.

It’s difficult for me to pick my favorite win of that stretch of games. Maybe the win over Creighton thanks to a three pointer from Kyron Cartwright as the clock wound down. Maybe it was slipping by Marquette to sweep them for the season, despite being down with the Golden Eagles seemingly not knowing how to miss. It could have been getting revenge on St. John’s after their obnoxious display in Providence to close out the six game win streak. I don’t know, it’s hard to pick.

Here’s what I do know: this win streak proved to me and all the other Friar fans out there that Ed Cooley is something truly special. We all knew that, sure, but this was something else. Cooley proved he could be an elite coach, that winning every year and going to the tournament was not just a hope, it was a real possibility. He took this “9th in the Big East” team to third in the Big East; primed for a postseason bid.

It. Was. Incredible.

I have a lot of memories as a Friar fan, but watching this team will itself into the NCAA Tournament during this stretch was truly miraculous. We didn’t need other teams to lose or to talk about bubbles or automatic bids – we earned this bid.

I’ve never been more proud of a Providence team before. That includes the 2014 Big East Championship team.

That Wasn’t Supposed to Happen: Friars Make the First Four

I don’t want to talk about the Creighton game in the Big East Tournament. Yes, the Friars played sloppy and yes, they deserved to lose. But when your point guard is in a rough place because of personal things in his life, I tend to give the team a pass. I know what was at stake, and I’m not okay with the loss, but I’m not going to dwell on it.

The Friars had done their job and played well. They were in. Unfortunately, “in” meant “play-in game” in Dayton against Providence’s previous year matchup, USC.

Fans were understandably upset. The Friars had done enough to earn a spot in the field, not a chance to play their way in. Additionally, why were they playing the same team as last year? This seemed like a poor job from the committee, and plenty of other fanbases had their grievances as well. But, me? I was just happy to be in.

And when we played USC on Wednesday night, we didn’t look like a “play in” team. We looked like a “we’re going to make some noise and continue to shut up the doubters” type of team. We absolutely crushed the Trojans in the first half. Emotions were soaring. Everyone was riding high. I was tweeting nonsense about so-called “experts” who picked USC over Providence. The fools!

Unfortunately, in the second half, the Friars came crashing to earth like a meteorite.

It wasn’t supposed to happen like this. The Friars were supposed to win. They weren’t supposed to be in the First Four, they were supposed to be playing a much more respectable and reasonable matchup.

Then again, were the Friars even supposed to be here at all? Was any of this supposed to happen?

This is a question I’ve dwelled on since USC usurped our position into the field of 64. They’ve since gone and beaten SMU and will be playing in the round of 32, a position the Friars could have been in had they beaten USC on Wednesday.

The fact is, I don’t know if this was supposed to happen. I don’t think it was if I follow the experts, but I don’t – experts are often wrong. They’re experts in title, not in knowledge, and definitely not about the Friars.

This wasn’t supposed to happen – the Friars were supposed to win. But then again, the Friars were supposed to be picked higher in the preseason, they were supposed to beat Boston College, they were supposed to win the games they won but in a different way.

Maybe none of this was supposed to happen, but it did, and, as fans, we’re lucky for it.

So what comes next? Well I can tell you what will never happen again: we’ll never get picked to finish second to last in the Big East unless something awful happens and I need to be put on the team along with my girlfriend’s cat and several scarecrows. It just simply won’t happen. Cooley is too good and our incoming talent is too talented.

We will still lose silly games. We’ll also win ones we’re not supposed to. So it goes.

Most importantly? We won’t be writing a requiem for the season during the first weekend of the Tournament next year. The Friars are going places in 2018 – likely beginning with the Sweet 16.